Hot hatches are adored for their practical approach to performance, but what happens when the remit changes from ‘everyday’ to ‘race day’? We drive the new Peugeot 308 Racing Cup to find out
by DAN PROSSER
PHOTOGRAPHY by ASTON PARROTT
he latest 308 GTi truly is a return to form for Peugeot. The French marque doesn’t have a fully equipped rival for the likes of Volkswagen’s Golf GTI Clubsport S for the time being, then, but if you know where to look, you’ll find a 308 that makes the Clubsport S look about as thrilling as an overloaded wheelie bin.
‘We start with the standard 308 GTi engine,’ says Laurent Guyot, ‘then we fit a massive turbo.’ As the man responsible for Peugeot Sport’s customer racing programmes, Guyot has overseen the development of the new 308 Racing Cup. ‘It has more aero, more power and more grip than the car it replaces.’
The 308 Racing Cup is the successor to the RCZ Racing Cup, which served as Peugeot Sport’s customer motorsport product for five years. The new car will compete in a single-make series from 2017 and it’ll also be eligible for various championships across the globe, including the TCR Touring Car category, the 24H Series and the Nürburgring-based VLN championship. Peugeot Sport hopes to sell 60 cars in the first year, each at 74,900 euros (before tax).
The 308 Racing Cup has been developed by the new PSA racing department in Versailles – an amalgamation of Peugeot Sport and Citroën Racing. The new division is responsible for all group motorsport activities across Peugeot, Citroën and DS, including customer and factory programmes. The new division will also be responsible for future high-performance road cars.
‘The turbo is more or less from an R5 rally car,’ says Guyot. To keep costs down, the engine internals are unchanged, but the 1.6-litre unit is still good for 304bhp and 295lb ft of torque – some 44bhp and 81lb ft more than the outgoing RCZ Racing Cup. The transmission is a development of the six-speed Sadev sequential that was used by the RCZ, with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. A limited-slip differential manages torque between the front wheels.
Naturally, the rest of the car has been overhauled to prepare it for racing, too. The brakes are by AP Racing, the uprated suspension is fully adjustable and the tracks are wider front and rear – the swollen arches both add visual muscle and keep the wheels within the bodywork – while the roll-cage is a welded-in item. The slick tyres are provided by Michelin, while the prominent front splitter and jutting rear wing generate as much as 160kg of downforce. Finally, a flat underfloor helps to reduce drag and accelerate air flow.
Although it’s down on power compared with a current-day British Touring Car, the 308 Racing Cup has a more advanced chassis. At Circuit de Lurcy-Lévis, the Peugeot has so much cornering ability that even after two stints in the car I’m only starting to get to grips with it in a handful of the track’s eight corners.
The third-gear right-hander that feeds onto the long back straight, for example, shows just how much front-end grip the 308 can generate. At the point where I expect it to start washing wide, there’s actually enough grip in reserve that I can both stand on the power and feed in more steering lock without triggering any understeer whatsoever.
Compared with Mini’s Challenge race car – although that car is much more affordable – the difference in cornering performance between the two is enormous. In high-speed corners in particular, with its aerodynamic devices working, the Racing Cup finds so much grip that the limiting factor is my own self-preservation instinct.
The 308 has good traction, too, even away from the circuit’s tightest corner, which is taken in first gear. The brakes, meanwhile, take all the pedal pressure I can muster without ever locking up (there’s no ABS).
You only need to use the clutch pedal when pulling away, which means you can left-foot brake for even finer control over the car’s attitude. Grégory Guilvert, Peugeot Sport’s development driver, likes to agitate the car at turn-in by braking hard and late with the brake bias wound as far as possible to the rear. With the car oversteering slightly between entry and apex, he can pin the throttle and drive hard through to corner exit.
A good customer racing car needs to cater for a range of drivers, from seasoned professionals to young hotshots and well-funded rookies. The 308 Racing Cup is a physical car to drive, but it treads a neat line between accommodating amateurs and keeping experienced professionals on their toes. Now, if Peugeot Sport can inject some its staggering performance into the 308 GTi, it really will have a Clubsport S rival on its hands.
Peugeot 308 Racing Cup
Engine In-line 4-cyl, 1600cc, turbo
Power 304bhp @ n/a
Torque295lb ft @ n/a
Transmission Six-speed sequential, front-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
Front suspension MacPherson struts, coil springs, adjustable dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Torsion bar, coil springs, adjustable dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes Ventilated 378mm front discs, solid 290mm rear discs
Wheels 10 x 18in front and rear
Tyres 27/16-18 front and rear
0-60mph sub-4.0sec (est)
Top speed 160mph (est)
Basic price €74,900 plus taxes
On sale Now
evo rating: ★★★★☆
PEUGEOT SPORT 308 R HYBRID:
The Racing Cup isn’t the first time Peugeot has toyed with a seriously high-performance 308. With close to 500bhp and capable of hitting 62mph in four seconds, the 308 R Hybrid is supercar fast.
Revealed at the Shanghai motor show last year as a concept, the R Hybrid uses the 308 GTi’s 266bhp engine to drive its front wheels while a pair of 113bhp electric motors power the rears. The tracks are 80mm wider front and rear than the standard car’s and the suspension is heavily uprated, while 380mm front brake discs rein in the vast performance.
Peugeot is considering putting a version of the R Hybrid into production, too. ‘We are quite well developed with the car and we’re now in the process of commercialising it,’ says Peugeot CEO Maxime Picat.
Expect a road-going version to be heavily toned down from the unhinged R Hybrid, if only because a 500bhp 308 would carry an unreasonably high price tag – circa £50,000-plus. A 350bhp version with a £35,000 list price would look very attractive indeed, however, as well as being perfectly aligned with the 345bhp, four-wheel-drive Focus RS.
At Circuit de Lurcy-Lévis, the Peugeot has so much cornering ability that even after two stints in the car I’m only starting to get to grips with it in a handful of the track’s eight corners.